The Cat Paintings of Louis Wain, and Other Great Pictures of Cats in Art

Cat fight by Louis Wain

This painting of two cats having a dispute is by the renowned cat artist, Louis Wain. Image cortesy of Wiki Commons
This painting of two cats having a dispute is by the renowned cat artist, Louis Wain. Image cortesy of Wiki Commons

The Man Who Painted Cats

Louis William Wain was the eldest of six children. Born in Clerkenwell, London in 1860 to an English father, and a French mother, he was to become famous for his many drawings, paintings and illustrations of cats. His father was in the textile trade, and provided a financially secure home for the family, all of whom were girls apart from Louis. Little Louis was born with a cleft lip, and doctors advised a delay in commencing his education, but eventually he was schooled, and his precocious artistic talents were encouraged and given room to develop.He finished his formal education at the West London School of Art, where he was later to become a teacher.

The Wain girls, however, were educated at home by a governess, Emily Richardson, and despite a ten year age gap, Louis became very fond of her. Eventually, at the age of 23, he proposed marriage. After their wedding, the couple moved to Hampstead in north London. but their happiness was to be short-lived. Emily soon became ill with cancer, and died after just three years of marriage. Louis was devastated.

Louis Wain was always a most prolific artist, and throughout Emily's illness he continued to draw and to paint. Seeing how much comfort his wife's cat, Peter gave her during her last weeks, Louis sought to divert her further by dressing the cat up, and drawing him in amusing situations, such as wearing glasses, or pretending to read. Soon these illustrations became something to do in the sad days after Emily's death. He later wrote of Peter, " To him properly belongs the foundation of my career, the development of my initial efforts, and the establishing of my work."

Cat With a Cigar by Louis Wain

Cat with a cigar by Louis Wain, courtesy of Wiki Commons
Cat with a cigar by Louis Wain, courtesy of Wiki Commons

Wain's career as a Cat Artist begins

The death of Louis's father, three years before Louis's marriage to Emily Richardson, placed an additional burden on his shoulders. The Wain girls remained resolutely single, and all stayed at home with their mother, apart from the youngest, who was eventually admitted to an insane asylum at the age of thirty. Louis became the male head of the family, and was obliged to work hard at his chosen profession in order to help support them all.

Teaching was soon abandoned in favour of work as a freelance artist. He contributed to both the Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, and to the Illustrated London News, but it was his humanised cat illustrations that were to direct the path of his future career. The first such drawing appeared in the Christmas edition of The Illustrated London News in 1886, and was entitled 'A Kittens' Christmas Party'. This early drawing featured cats who were still cat-like, but who were taking part in human activities. Later, as Wain developed his theme, his cats began to walk upright, often wearing sophisticated contemporary clothing, and their faces became increasingly expressive.

Cats on the Green by Louis Wain

Cats on the Green by Louis Wain, courtesy of Wiki Commons
Cats on the Green by Louis Wain, courtesy of Wiki Commons

From children's book illustrator to a descent into insanity

Wain's work earned him great popularity, and he was soon highly sought after as a children's book illustrator, initially publishing under the pseudonym George Henri Thompson. In 1901 the first Louis Wain Annual appeared, and this ran from 1901 to 1915. In 1907 he was invited to travel to New York where he produced the comic strips 'Cats About Town', and 'Grimalkin' for Hearst newspapers. Unfortunately, however, despite considerable acclaim, and a steady flow of commissions, Louis Wain returned to the UK in bad shape financially.

During Wain's absence abroad, his mother had succumbed to Spanish 'flu, and the loss of his mother seems to have marked the beginnings of a slow descent into serious mental health problems. Eventually, when his sisters could no longer cope with his hostile and erratic outbursts, they had him committed to the  pauper ward of Springfield Mental Hospital in Tooting. Later, after the intervention of several well-known figures including  H.G.Wells, Wain was transferred firstly to the Bethlem Royal Hospital in Southwark, London, then in 1930, to Napsbury Hospital near St Albans, Hertfordshire, where he lived until his death in 1939.

Colourful Cat by Louis Wain

Courtesy of Wiki Commons
Courtesy of Wiki Commons

Schizophrenia or Aspergers? We'll never know for sure

Louis Wain's later work was characterized by bright colours and abstract patterns, and some psychologists have suggested this increasing abstraction to be symptomatic of schizophrenia. Other specialists believe that he may have suffered from Asperger's Syndrome. My own view is that the failing eyesight associated with old age possibly brightened his pallet, but the abstraction may well have had it's origins in his psychological problems. Certainly he was a unique talent, and will not easily be forgotten.

Cat's Christmas by Louis Wain

Cat's Christmas by Louis Wain courtesy of Wiki Commons
Cat's Christmas by Louis Wain courtesy of Wiki Commons

Cat mosaic excavated from Pompeii

Cat mosaic from Pompeii, National Archeological Museum, Naples. photographh by Massimo Finizio. Courtesy Wiki Commons
Cat mosaic from Pompeii, National Archeological Museum, Naples. photographh by Massimo Finizio. Courtesy Wiki Commons

And now for something completely different

Cats have been men's companions for thousands of years, as is evidenced by this striking mosaic which was excavated from the ruins of Pompeii. This is a fierce looking cat. one who would stand no nonsense, I suspect.

Detail from the Papyrus of Hunefer

Detail from the papyrus of Hunefer; the sun god represented as a cat kills the serpent of darkness with a knife. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons
Detail from the papyrus of Hunefer; the sun god represented as a cat kills the serpent of darkness with a knife. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons

From the Book of the Dead

The papyrus of Hunefer was found in the tomb of the scribe Hunefer in Thebes. It dates from the 19th Dynasty, about 1285 BC, and may be seen in the British Museum in London. I really like the smug smile on the cat's face, as he cheerfully slices his knife into the snake. What a scary cat!

Myojakdo (painting of cats and sparrows) by Byeon Sang-Yeok

Myojakdo (painting of cats and sparrows) by Byeon Sang-yeok. Image courstesy of Wiki Commons
Myojakdo (painting of cats and sparrows) by Byeon Sang-yeok. Image courstesy of Wiki Commons

Cats and Sparrows by a Korean Artist

I haven't been able to discover anything about this Korean artist, but the painting is listed as having been painted in around 1730. I like the simple design of this image. The background has been deliberately left blank, and the two cats have a distinctly oriental feel about them. I don't fancy the sparrows chances much, as these cats look like mean hunters!

Studies of an Awakening Kitten

Studies of an awakening kitten by Henriette Ronner-Knip. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons
Studies of an awakening kitten by Henriette Ronner-Knip. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons

Studies of an awakening kitten by Henriette Ronner-Knip

This wonderful study of an awakening kitten was painted by the Dutch artist, Henriette Ronner-Knip (1821-1909). This talented lady artist specialised in animal portraiture, and her charming studies are well observed and very pleasing.

Sleeping Jeppe by Bruno Liljefors, 1886

Sleeping Jeppe by Bruno Liljefors, 1886. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons
Sleeping Jeppe by Bruno Liljefors, 1886. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons

Sleepy cat enjoying the warm sunshine

Bruno Liljefors (1860-1939) was a Swedish Artist who loved to paint animals and wild-life. His bold, Impressionistic style gives his paintings a strong sense of light, and this great study of a sleepy cat, sunning himself, is no exception. The loose brushstrokes lend a feeling of immediacy and movement, and it is as though the cat might stretch and pounce at any moment.

Two Cats, Blue and Yellow by Franz Marc

Two Cats, Blue and Yellow, by Franz Marc, 1912. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons
Two Cats, Blue and Yellow, by Franz Marc, 1912. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons

German Expressionist Cats

The artist Franz Marc, son of the landscape artist, Wilhelm Marc, was born in Munich, Germany in 1880. His turbulent and remarkable artistic career was cut short by his early death at the young age of 36, but his characteristic and colourful art work have provided us with a lasting legacy. Strogly associated with the German Expressionist movement, Franz Marc was a founder member along with Wassily Kandinsky and Auguste Macke, of 'Der Blaue Reiter' group of artists.

Tomcat by Frans Koppelaar, 2005

Tom Cat by Frans Koppelaar, 2005. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons
Tom Cat by Frans Koppelaar, 2005. Image courtesy of Wiki Commons

Tom Cat

 Born in 1943, Frans Koppelaar is a Dutch artist, living and working in the Netherlands. His landscapes and citscapes are painted in a traditional style, but this study of a sleepy cat has a warm, Impressionistic feel to it.

The cat paintings of Louis Wain

More by this Author


Comments 28 comments

Elena. profile image

Elena. 6 years ago from Madrid

Oh mama mia! The Sleeping Jeppe and the Tom Caat are fantastic! Who knew that cats were featured in so many paintings -- and probably more that you would find, if you set your mind to it :-) For example, weren't cats very present in Egyptian frescos and art in general?

Now, this Louis Wain fellow, how come so many artists have such a dire existence? Makes on think that one needs a dire existence to be an artist.

Thanks for yet another wonderful hub, Amanda!


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 6 years ago from UK Author

Hi Elena, 'the sleeping Jeppe' is my favourite, too. I note your comment about cats in Egyptian art, and I found a really groovy one which I've added above. And yes, poor old Louis Wain. How artists suffer for their art!


Storytellersrus profile image

Storytellersrus 6 years ago from Stepping past clutter

Amanda this is fantastic! I love all the cat portraits and also your commentary. I am so envious of all the things you know from an artistic sense. But even more envious of the abilities expressed. I tried to offer a favorite; it is impossible to choose one! Each expressed something new and unique and I have two cats, so I know of what I speak, haha. Thanks for a hub I thoroughly enjoyed.

BTW, I am struggling through Lathe of Heaven. Either because of my stressful situation with my dying father in law or simply because I am not as intellectual as you, it is nearly torture to pick it up each evening, but I am determined as I want to come to the end and discover why you say it is your favorite LeGuin. I am sure I will figure it out, haha. For now the Earthsea series remains in first place for me...


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 6 years ago from UK Author

Hi Barb, glad you enjoyed the cats. Please don't torture yourself with the Lathe of Heaven on my account. The story grabs me because the central premise of the 'effective dream' is so intriguing. George Orr knows that he dreams effectively, but can't live with the knowledge. He doesn't want to be responsible for modifying the world, yet in a way it doesn't matter, because nobody else knows that he has. It's only when his doctor places himself in the eye of George Orr's storm that things get really interesting, and I think that it becomes a metaphor for the large scale tinkering that goes on in our own, real world. It's all about the Law of Unintended consequences. Anyway, that's just my take on it, but Earthsea is great too. Did you know that Le Guin wrote a sequel to Earthsea BTW? It's called The Other Wind. I picked it up at a charity shop the other day, and I'm halfway through. It's very good so far...


ethel smith profile image

ethel smith 6 years ago from Kingston-Upon-Hull

There some great cat images here


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 6 years ago from UK Author

Thanks Ethel. i had a surprisingly hard time finding images of cats on their own. They're nearly always painted with people.


jayjay40 profile image

jayjay40 6 years ago from Bristol England

I hadn't heard of Louis Wain, thanks for introducing me to him. I have 3 cats of my own and love these pictures.


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 6 years ago from UK Author

Hi Jayjay, I'm glad you enjoyed the pictures. I think Louis Wain's images of cats are better known than he is himself. He was extremely prolific and widely published even today, so it's likely you'll have come across some of his work without ever realising it.


Nell Rose profile image

Nell Rose 6 years ago from England

Oh wow! what lovely pictures. I remember seeing one of his pieces come up on the Antique road show.I can't remember who brought it in, but they nearly died of shock when they found out how much it was worth! cheers nell


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 6 years ago from UK Author

Hi Nell, I love the Antiques Roadshow, especially when little old ladies come in with things they've had for years, and have been using as doorstops or letting the grandchildren play tea parties with, and suddenly they're told the item is worth thousands. Their expressions are just priceless!


Pat Duck 6 years ago

I have an original Louis Wain postcard.It has original stamp

and dated 1909.Signed Louis Wain also.

It is called the Masher Brigade.It's condition is Ok but there is a little paper missing on one corner.

Does anyone know the book value of this postcard?


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 6 years ago from UK Author

Hi Pat Duck, I don't know too much about values for Louis Wain postcards, but I would have thought that a Louis Wain signature should have some value if it can be verified.


Trohnjem profile image

Trohnjem 6 years ago from Oregon

Haha I really enjoyed this and am really glad you wrote the hub. So far I have really liked your writing. Keep it up because I'm loving the art history information.


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 6 years ago from UK Author

Hi Trohnjem, thanks for stopping by and commenting. The art hubs are my favourite ones to write.


2patricias profile image

2patricias 6 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

We are both cat-lovers, so of course have enjoyed this hub.

The history of Wain is interesting, and you have put together an interesting collection.

What about Elizabeth Blackadder though?


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 6 years ago from UK Author

Hi 2patricias

I like Elizabeth Blackadder's work, and she certainly deserves to be in a hub, but being a lazy hubber, I tend to stick to art and artists who have been dead long enough that I don't need permission to publish (70 years from date of death apparently) I just checked on Wiki Commons, and she doesn't have any work posted there for free use, so she will have to be missed out on this occasion I'm afraid!


TruthAwake profile image

TruthAwake 5 years ago from The Dirty South

Fascinating, love it!


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 5 years ago from UK Author

Hi TruthAwake, thanks for stopping by and commenting. I'm glad you enjoyed the hub.


scott33thomas profile image

scott33thomas 5 years ago from Germany, Colombia, USA, Panama, Mexico, Spain

I love cats and I would like to have a painting of these


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 5 years ago from UK Author

There are some great cat pictures around. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.


oliversmum profile image

oliversmum 5 years ago from australia

Amanda Severn. Hi. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this hub.

The information and pictures are amazing.

They are all wonderful, but my favorite's are "cats on the green" and "studies of an awakening kitten".

Thanks so much for sharing it with us. Voted up. :) :)


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 5 years ago from UK Author

Hi Oliversmum,

Glad you enjoyed the hub. Some of the cat studies are really cute, and I very much like the kitten one myself. Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to comment!


TroyM profile image

TroyM 5 years ago

Wonderful paintings! I love all the cat portraits...


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 5 years ago from UK Author

Thank you for stopping by and commenting.


AuraGem profile image

AuraGem 5 years ago from Victoria, Australia

So many artists seemed to find a sanctuary in their cats! Norman Lindsay in Australia used to often include a cat somewhere in his paintings and also did many black and white cat sketches! T. S. Eliot devoted a series of poems to profiling cats! "Macavity the Mystery Cat" still haunts me! Totally enjoyed this informative post!


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 5 years ago from UK Author

Hi AuraGem, cats are certainly a popular subject for artists and poets alike. I'm glad you enjoyed the hub. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.


Au fait profile image

Au fait 2 years ago from North Texas

Cats are one of those things that people seem to get very attached to, like dolls or teddybears or bells or any number of things people collect. I love cats and I know a lot of other people who do too, unfortunately, I'm allergic to them along with all other animals.

Very interesting article. Enjoyed reading the history and seeing the photos.


Amanda Severn profile image

Amanda Severn 2 years ago from UK Author

I don't have cats, but I enjoy looking at art that features them, and Louis Wain was such a quirky artist that I was inspired to research further. Thank you for stopping by and commenting.

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